Mark Twain famously wrote, "There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." Peter Schweizer's new book, "Throw Them All Out," reveals this permanent political class in all its arrogant glory. (Full disclosure: Mr. Schweizer is employed by my political action committee as a foreign-policy adviser.)
Mr. Schweizer answers the questions so many of us have asked. I addressed this in a speech in Iowa last Labor Day weekend. How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians' stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers'? I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.
All valid and excellent questions posed by Mrs. Palin. Now if only she could be a little more credible on the issue. From when she was a governor:
Sarah Palin and her husband have pieced together a uniquely Alaskan income that reached comfortably into six figures even before she became governor, capitalizing on valuable fishing rights, a series of land deals and a patchwork of other ventures to build an above-average lifestyle. Add up the couple’s 2007 income and the estimated value of their property and investments, and they appear to be worth at least $1.2 million. [...] Palin this week characterized herself as “an everyday, working-class American” who knows how it feels when the stock market takes a hit.
The Palins’ total income last year was split almost evenly between Sarah Palin’s white-collar job and her husband’s blue-collar work. [...] These figures do not include nearly $17,000 in per diem payments Palin received for 312 nights spent in her own home since she was elected governor; she also has received $43,490 to cover travel costs for her husband and children.
In addition, each member of the Palin family received $1,654 in state oil royalties paid to all Alaskans. The Palins’ assets seem enviable: a half-million-dollar home on a lake with a float-plane at the dock, two vacation retreats, commercial-fishing rights worth an estimated $50,000 or more and an income last year of at least $230,000.
It's okay. I'll take pro-reform and pro-transparecy rhetoric anywhere I can get it these days. And I must say, this sudden burst of interest by Mrs. Palin in taking up the torch of reform and lighting a fire under government corruption is a welcomed event. A long-awaited event, really. A really, really, really long-awaited event:
As She Steps Down, Palin Promises She'll Reclaim Ethics Crusade
Saturday, July 25, 2009
ANCHORAGE -- Sarah Palin, who rose from obscurity to become Alaska's governor three years ago, began her career as a combative whistleblower crusading against state political corruption. She accused GOP leaders of violating ethics laws, then publicized details of the confidential investigations.
Now, as Palin prepares to step down Sunday, 18 months before the end of her term, she vows to resurrect her early crusader image on a national stage, even as she complains that she has been saddled with what she calls "frivolous" ethics complaints and legal bills.
"I'm not leaving the governorship because of any particular ethics complaint. Rather, I have explained that the millions of dollars spent by the state and the diversion of resources to address politically inspired records requests, personnel board costs and wasting staff time is unnecessary and harmful to the state," Palin said in written comments to The Washington Post. "I will take the battle nationally and I won't shy away from challenging the powerful, the entrenched, the corrupt and anyone standing in the way of getting our country back on the right track."
What has Sarah Palin done in the two years plus she left office? Did she indeed become a warrior for transparency and a crusader against corruption, as she promised? From 2010:
Pundits can debate the political costs and benefits of Sarah Palin's decision to step down as Alaska governor, but the monetary advantages of leaving her $125,000-a-year public service post are beyond dispute.
Since leaving office at the end of July 2009, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee has brought in at least 100 times her old salary – a haul now estimated at more than $12 million -- through television and book deals and a heavy schedule of speaking appearances worth five and six figures.
That conservative estimate is based on publicly available records and news accounts. The actual number is probably much higher, but is hard to quantify because Palin does not publicize her earnings.
So why did Palin really quit? Levi Johnston, the Wasilla homeboy impregnator of Bristol Palin, who thanks to her appearance on “Dancing With the Stars” is now almost as famous for being famous as Paris Hilton is, lived for a while with the Palins after the 2008 election. In his book, Johnston remembered what he thought after Palin’s news conference: “I wasn’t surprised. I hate this job, she used to say. I could be making money instead.”
Johnston’s recollection has the ring of verisimilitude because two months before she quit, uber-agent Robert Barnett negotiated a deal for Palin’s ghostwritten hagiography that may have been worth as much as $11 million. Then as soon as she quit, Palin signed with the Washington Speakers Bureau, which quickly got her more than $100,000 for a 90-minute speech. Four months later she signed a seven-figure contract to be a commentator on Fox News. And two months after that, she signed another seven-figure contract with Mark Burnett, who created “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” to star in her own reality show.
For the past two years that’s how Palin has spent most of her time: promoting books, making paid television appearances, giving paid speeches.
Oh, but making tons of money while pretending to run for public office over the last two years doesn't count. No, transparency warrior Sarah Palin has her fuming pen set on those darn politicians who use their offices for political gain. Kind of like this:
[A] Los Angeles Times examination of state records shows, her approach to government was business as usual. Take, for example, the tradition of patronage. Some of Palin's most controversial appointments involved donors, records show. Among The Times' findings:
More than 100 appointments to state posts -- nearly 1 in 4 -- went to campaign contributors or their relatives, sometimes without apparent regard to qualifications.
Palin filled 16 state offices with appointees from families that donated $2,000 to $5,600 and were among her top political patrons.
Several of Palin's leading campaign donors received state-subsidized industrial development loans of up to $3.6 million for business ventures of questionable public value.
But her history of using her own office and political experience for personal gain doesn't stop Palin from continuing her righteous indignation:
The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad, and Mr. Schweizer details the most lucrative methods: accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it's sickening.
Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress. [...] We need equality under the law. From now on, laws that apply to the private sector must apply to Congress, including whistleblower, conflict-of-interest and insider-trading laws. Trading on nonpublic government information should be illegal both for those who pass on the information and those who trade on it. (This should close the loophole of the blind trusts that aren't really blind because they're managed by family members or friends.)
No more sweetheart land deals with campaign contributors. No gifts of IPO shares. No trading of stocks related to committee assignments. No earmarks where the congressman receives a direct benefit. No accepting campaign contributions while Congress is in session. No lobbyists as family members, and no transitioning into a lobbying career after leaving office. No more revolving door, ever.
Kudos to the staffer that penned Mrs. Palin's WSJ piece. Regardless of the messenger, the message is true. I'm sure Mrs. Palin will have a blast on the talk show circuit expanding on the ideas. And I can't wait to get a fundraising email from SarahPAC about donating to help her take up the cause.
Who knows, maybe in another two years, she can update us on her efforts to "take the battle nationally" and "challeng[e] the powerful, the entrenched, the corrupt and anyone standing in the way of getting our country back on the right track." Maybe she'll even write a New York Times best-seller about it.